By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000
TAMPA -- Stan Drulia said he had no choice.
A Thrashers player in the high slot at the Ice Palace Sunday night wound up for a slap shot. There was no time to think. Just time to react.
So the Lightning right wing skated toward the shooter, bent his knees, lowered his hands and blocked the shot. Great play, except the puck broke the metacarpal bone in his left hand.
Drulia was put on injured reserve Monday and is expected to miss two to three weeks. Sheldon Keefe was recalled from the IHL's Detroit Vipers.
Drulia, 32, is one of the NHL's best bargains. He's not flashy and not going to score a lot of points. But he is probably the Lightning's smartest player and even can play defense, which he did for a period during a game last season against the Rangers when injuries mounted.
He does all this for the low, low price, according to the NHL Players Association, of $350,000.
Drulia said he doesn't remember who shot the puck, but, "it was a pretty good shot. It really hurt. It just hit me in the right spot. That's what happens when you block shots. When the puck's not going in the net, it's not a bad thing."
"Stan blocks a lot of shots," general manager Rick Dudley said. "He's got that mind-set and it's a good one. Teams that win Stanley Cups do a lot of stuff like that."
Still, that Drulia approached a slap shot with his face front-and-center to the puck seemed a tad dangerous. Especially when you consider former Canadiens forward Trent McCleary, who almost died last season after he blocked a slap shot with his throat.
Why not throw the legs out? Drulia said had he not been directly in front of the shooter he would have done just that.
"I was right in line with him," Drulia said, "so I tried to make myself as big as possible."
Big enough to be hit with the puck.
As for Keefe, his call-up is a reward for keeping the word he gave to the Lightning brass when he was sent to Detroit during training camp.
Keefe vowed he would turn his disappointment into motivation and get back to the big club. He had two goals and an assist in three games for the Vipers, and Lightning coach Steve Ludzik said Keefe "was their best player down there."
"He was a high-energy guy who worked hard and deserved a chance to play for a little bit," Dudley said.
ROAD WOES: The Lightning's four-game road trip that starts Wednesday night in Minnesota probably will be hardest on Gordie Dwyer.
The left wing is serving a 23-game suspension for leaving the penalty box and abusing officials during a Sept. 19 preseason game against the Capitals. It will keep him out until Nov. 27.
"I'll stay here and skate by myself," he said. "It's a little lonely sometimes."
He said he is using his time wisely. He practices with the team, has taken a turn on defense now and then and spends long hours in the gym.
"I'm going to be in really good shape when I come back," he said. "I'll probably be a better player when I come back."
He said he will be a smarter player, too, though he cannot guarantee another outburst like the one that got him suspended will not happen again.
"I play with emotion," Dwyer said. "I'll never take emotion out of my game."
BREATHE: Anybody notice that 12:36 into the second period Sunday night, goaltender Kevin Weekes was so slow to get to his feet after a scramble in front of the net that some of his teammates went to him to make sure he was okay?
Weekes missed almost all of the preseason with a strained lower back but said his back was not the problem.
"It's hot," Weekes said. "It's a hot arena. You get involved in those scrambles, you get overheated. I stayed down on my knee to catch my breath."
SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS: The Lightning is the only team that has not allowed a power-play goal, killing 26 of 26 short-handed situations. After a 4-for-12 night on the power play against the Thrashers, Tampa Bay was ranked fifth going into Monday night's games at 25 percent efficiency (7-for-28).
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